Though it's usually thought to be a pesky weed, plantain is really a potent tool for your natural home remedy kit! Here are loads of plantain herb benefits and uses you likely didn't know about!
Nature is pretty incredible, offering us numerous ways to support our health using everyday ingredients and common plants. Our ancestors relied on them for treating everything from colds to toothache.
With the rise of modern medicine, people began turning to mass-produced pharmaceuticals, and the powers of these natural remedies became far less well known, especially in the West.
Times are a-changing, and more of us are rediscovering the power of plants and easy natural remedies.
You might not realize you have some potent home remedies growing in your yard right now. In fact, you’ve probably mistaken many of them for weeds and not known they have some terrific uses in your natural remedy arsenal.
Today I introduce you to a superstar weed — plantain herb, a humble plant that is both edible and medicinal and thrives in bad soil, which mean it’s very likely there’s some right outside your door right now.
And just to be clear: We’re talking here about plantain LEAF, the green weed you find in your garden, not the banana-like fruit that you can use in recipes like these Grain-free Tortillas.
Those are tasty (yum!) and maybe we can talk about how good those yummy plantains are for you at another time, but right now we're talking weeds. No, not that weed — plantain herb weeds.
Here’s what plantain looks like growing in the garden. I'm sure you've seen it and thought it was just junk!
Well, it's not!
Plantain is not the most attractive plant in your yard, it's true. Around here, we get broadleaf plantain with the long telltale seed stalks like the one above, but you might have narrow-leaf varieties in your area. You can find more details on identifying plantain at Edible Wild Food, a great resource for foraging inspiration.
Check out some of the inventive recipes they link at the bottom of the post while you’re there.
Get to Know Plantain Herb and Plantain Herb Benefits
The plantain herb's formal name is Plantago Major, and it grows all over the world. It can be found in broadleaf and narrow-leaf forms, which are used interchangeably. It can vary in look in different regions. Check out the variety in these photos.
Plantain herb is probably growing in your yard where nothing else survives right now. In my yard, it likes the most compacted, clay-ey soil, and gets on just fine without watering or coddling. Perfect for a neglectful gardener like myself!
But once you find plantain herb, welcome it to your yard and let it spread a bit. Or if you don’t have any, you can boggle your neighbors’ minds by collecting seed from someone else’s plantain and planting it.
Since plantain thrives in poor soils, it can be a bit invasive, so harvest it to your heart’s content. You can enjoy plenty of free food and useful DIY plant medicine.
As with any herb you forage for food or medicine, be sure to consult a good field guide to make sure you have the right plant and only collect plants from areas you know haven’t been sprayed with chemical pesticides like glyphosate (ick!).
Plantain Herb Benefits & Uses
In the Kitchen
A Mineral and Vitamin Rich "Vegetable"
As an edible, like so many weeds, plantain leaf is chock full of nutrition, reportedly rich in minerals like calcium and iron, as well as vitamins A, C and K. Young leaves can be added to cooked dishes where you would use spinach.
Flax Seed Alternative
Renowned herbalist Susun Weed uses plantain seeds in baking in place of flaxmeal, as they are similarly high in fiber and omega-3s. Amazing, huh??
Natural Health Supports
Like many herbal remedies, our knowledge of plantain comes from generations of use. Its reputation as a powerful healing plant has led to numerous scientific studies that support traditional medicinal uses of plantain.
Plantain has been shown to help with wound healing (source). Next time you or your kids have a boo boo, just go grab some of this amazing weed and let it do its magic! (See details on making a poultice or salve below.)
Cough and Respiratory Help
Plantain herb is also known as an aid for cough and upper respiratory issues. (source). Got a cough or cold? Go grab some plantain weed from your back yard and make tea out of it! (See below for the how to's.)
The seeds reportedly have a mild laxative effect, and some varieties are actually cultivated to make psyllium, a powder often used to treat constipation.
Liver and Kidney Support
Rosemary Gladstar, in her Medicinal Herbs Book, ranks plantain as a close second to dandelion as “most common and most useful weed.”
Taken internally, it’s considered a blood purifier, helping to improve liver health, and supporting kidney health too. Liver and kidney health is so crucial!
Diarrhea Relief / Digestion Help
Got the runs or just an upset tummy? Use plantain tea. Since plantain is an astringent herb, it works to soothe the gut. See the instructions for making the tea below.
Plantain tea is also a great thing to aid with indigestion.
Insect Bite and Sting Help
If you find yourself out and about with an insect bite, you can simply chew up plantain leaves and apply them to the area. Plantain leaves may also be chopped or mashed for a poultice if that’s more your speed.
Apply to the affected area, wrap with a cloth, and leave on for 30-45 minutes. Repeat with fresh leaves until symptoms subside.
Poison Ivy Relief
Plantain is perhaps most prized for its ability to soothe insect bites and stings, as well as other skin irritations, so it's one of many natural poison ivy remedies. Plantain works so well for issues such as this that Rosemary Gladstar calls it the “poultice herb supreme.” Use the plantain tea as a spray or make a salve.
Plantain herb can also be used as a healing spray that can help with sunburn. Just spray the tea on and let the soothing begin!
Plantain leaf is also used for “drawing,” pulling out irritants like bee venom and helping to release splinters. A popular herb for what are called drawing salves, plantain can also work to draw out splinters by soaking the area in hot plantain tea with a tablespoon of salt.
Use plantain herb tea or tincture and apply to scalp. Massage in and rinse off after letting sit for awhile.
This plantain herb for dandruff idea would be a great companion to an apple cider vinegar rinse.
Plantain is high in calcium, it's antibacterial, antiseptic, and has silica which can help with remineralization of teeth. As such it makes a great mouthwash. It would make a great addition to any natural gum infection remedies.
Make a plantain tincture (see notes below) and then use that as your mouthwash base. Put about 45 drops of the tincture into a mouthful of water (don't put the tincture in first, or it will burn!)--then swish for about 30-45 seconds and expectorate.
Relieve Itching or Skin Irritation
Either plantain herb salve or tea can be used for itches and irritations of all sorts. More specific uses are listed above, but this powerful herb can be used in so many applications.
Ways to Prepare Plantain Herb
Plantain Herb Tea
Use 1 cup leaves to 2 cups boiled filtered water (see this post to find out a really reliable filter to make tap water safe) and allow to steep.
Plaintain Herb Salve
Many herbalists include plantain leaf in soothing DIY salves to have it on hand even when there isn’t fresh plantain leaf around. After collecting plantain leaf and drying, infuse leaves in oil and add beeswax to transform them into a handy healing salve ready for your next encounter with summer bugs. Learning and Yearning has instructions for DIY plantain salve here.
Plantain Herb Infusion
There are many instructions on the internet that you can choose from. A simple recipe is to use 1 cup of plantain and 1 pint of vodka. Combine and let set for 6-8 weeks, shaking every few days.
It's pretty amazing seeing all of the plantain herb benefits of this "pesky weed," isn't it?
Getting to know plants that can help treat common ailments naturally is a super-useful life skill. Want to know more about healing plants you might already be growing in your yard? Check out some of these useful remedies to get you started.
Did you know these facts about plantains?
Susannah is a freelance health and environmental writer obsessed with making our world and ourselves healthier and greener. She blogs at HealthyGreenSavvy, where she shares super-practical ways to eat well, reduce exposure to toxins, and shrink our ecological impact.
Join her community to learn savvy health hacks that can help you meet life’s challenges with more energy and vitality. Pick up one of her free guides and follow her on Facebook for inspiring ideas from around the blogosphere.